Don’t Care How, I Want It Now!
I think we can all agree Veruca Salt was an asshole—a spoiled, impatient brat who got what she deserved. She was a bad egg who took a quick trip down Willy Wonka’s garbage chute. Was it really her fault she was such a turd? Her parents were enablers—the Oompa Loompas nailed it. In her parents’ defense, raising kids is super frickin’ hard and all you want is for them to be happy. So, maybe I’m being too hard on Veruca.
I’m an impatient brat, too. My impatience borders on assholery. I hate waiting for anything. I whine about it, become indignant, and pout. Don’t care how, I want it now! It doesn’t matter what it is. I need instant gratification. The say patience is a virtue. Well, that’s one of many virtues I don’t have. When I instant message, I want an instant response. I want all green lights. I want you to like my latest Facebook nonsense now. I want. I want. I want.
Sometimes waiting is exciting—welcoming beautiful daughters into the world. But even my body didn’t like to wait. My uterus kicked those kids out early. I busted out of my mom’s uterus almost three months early (seriously, I do not like to wait).
Sometimes waiting is foolish—expecting someone to be who you always needed them to be, knowing in your heart you will never come first.
Sometimes waiting is heartbreaking—holding my grandma’s hand after all the machines tethering her to this world were turned off.
Sometimes waiting is unexpected—a letter inviting me back for a diagnostic mammogram.
The hardest part of having breast cancer was waiting. Every minute waiting for appointments, procedures, biopsy results, surgery, and a treatment plan felt like an eternity. Everything moved so quickly, but felt like it was in slow motion. From the time of my screening mammogram to when the lump was removed, one month passed. I felt every single second in that month and so did my husband. The week it took to get the biopsy results back was the hardest—do I have cancer? Maybe I don’t. Maybe it’s a bit of harmless boob garbage. Maybe I’ll die. Maybe I won’t. Don’t worry. Maybe I should worry more. Nothing will change. Everything will change. That week made me dizzy.
I got the call Friday afternoon going into a holiday weekend—invasive ductal carcinoma. After the lumpectomy, there was more waiting—is the cancer in my lymph nodes? It wasn’t. Do I need chemo? I didn’t. Is it in my genes? It’s not. Radiation and medication. Two years later, I wait for mammogram results in the mail just like everyone else. Although my risk of reoccurrence is low, I will always wonder if the cancer will become an unwanted visitor again. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.
You would think that experience taught me patience. Nope. I’m still as impatient as ever. It did teach me that waiting can be a gift. A wait is full of moments—another day with my family, a second chance, a celebration of dreams realized, apologies and forgiveness, and love to the moon and back.
Life is worth the wait.
Did I Actually Write That Nonsense?
The one thing I have perfected as a writer is the beginning of a story—no middle or end; no inciting incident; no idea where it’s going or what it wants to be. I then squirrel it away for years, sometimes twenty. I was a completely different person twenty years ago and it is painfully obvious when I re-read the words of a twenty-something aspiring writer who never cracked open a thesaurus. It does make me appreciate how far I’ve come and am excited to say I’ve had several of my short stories published. It wouldn’t hurt to dust off The Chicago Manual of Style. Who am I kidding? I bought the laminated tri-fold. Its quality is described on Amazon—water resistant, lightweight, compact, and durable. My writing has two of those same qualities. I’ll let you be the judge.
For your reading pleasure, here are the gems I dug out of my squirrel nest. Be prepared to be underwhelmed:
- “Mitch’s enthusiasm could be seen by the blind and heard by the deaf.” Let me first apologize to the blind and deaf communities. That one is painful.
- “He would have noticed two damp towels laying on the cold bathroom floor.” Ugh, seriously? Does anyone care the bathroom floor was cold and the towels damp? Lazy.
- “Her limp, mousy hair falls straight… hanging lifeless over her shoulders.” An ellipsis has no business in this sentence. These words have no business in this sentence. What the fuck is mousy hair? So embarrassing.
- “She would rather pluck out her own eyes than let anyone see her hurt.” Uhm, that’s not how vision works. People can still see you even if you pluck out your own eyes. I want to pluck out my eyes so I can’t see this horrible writing.
- “Although she loves Chris and has allowed him to explore every curve of her body, she has not let him inside her soul. He has tried to scale them, but he always loses his footing and falls to the hard ground below. So, he stands outside of those walls and licks his wounds.” First off, I just threw up in my mouth. “Let him inside her soul?” That’s not a thing. The thought of him licking his wounds just made me throw up again.
- “Janie worked six nights a week at Heartstone Nursing Center, changing Attends and cleaning up vomit off the cold linoleum floor.” What is up with these cold floors? Heartstone? What a marketing nightmare. Do you really want your mom staying at a stone-hearted facility?
- “Even when you don’t know where you’re going, you end up somewhere, usually at a place called Regret.” I think I was trying to be deep. Did you see what I did there? Regret is the name of the town. So, so bad.
- “I went to wash my hands as to not spread germs.” That’s just the right thing to do, people! Good hygiene is everyone’s business.
- “Maggie, her legs crossed” – that’s it, folks. Not even a period or point. I didn’t even finish the sentence. The story just stops.
- “Maggie lay supine on the hospital bed with her eyes closed.” That’s a little clinical and redundant.
- “Tim kissed Maggie’s parched lips ever so gently, yet passionately enough to remind her that she was still alive. It was like an unexpected rainstorm over the desert in which the dry earth drew long awaited water to its depths.” What a sloppy, disgusting kiss! So gross, Tim! Keep your saliva to yourself.
- “As he left, the majestic pink petals of the single rose fell to the floor.” That’s ineffectually dramatic and ridiculous. What the hell are majestic petals? Get it together, Jenny.
- “His voice was small and fragile, as if the words he struggled to speak would slip from his tongue on to the cold, grey pavement.” It’s not just bathroom floors that are cold, my friends.
I leave you with this gem. “The house was a hideous gold-brown color that reminded me of baby poop.” Yep, I actually wrote that. Jealous much?
You Got Your Chocolate In My Peanut Butter
“You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!”
“You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!”
Two great tastes that taste great together.
That’s what comes to mind when I think about my mental health.
“You got your soul-sucking depression on my heart-pounding anxiety!”
“You got your exhausting anxiety in my endless depression!
Except they aren’t great and even worse together. I care about nothing and everything. My mind is either stuck in the past or a hundred years in the future. My mind races and my body slugs behind. I’m numb and hyper-sensitive. I’m unmotivated and over-achieve. My sassiness borders on cruelty, but maybe that’s all in my head. I’m steady on the inside while a tornado rips me apart from the inside. I’m better than I used to be.
I’ve lived with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember, even before I knew their names. Twenty-six years ago, I made the decision to get help. It’s been years of different medications—trial and error, combinations of this and that, periods of success, and times my mood bottoms out and I feel like I’m free-falling. There are times I’m afraid to let people know I’m broken, but I’ve come to realize we are all broken. Hiding it, denying it, or running from it robs us of the chance to heal, connect with others, and celebrate joyful moments.
I wish I could say I meditate, do yoga, chant affirmations, and exercise but I don’t. I would like to say my body is a temple and I only fill it with things that are good for me, but it isn’t. I would like to say I pray every day, but my faith waxes and wanes, or disappears altogether. I really want to say I’ve forgiven all those who have hurt me, but that’s a work in progress. The hardest person to forgive is myself. There are a lot of things I could do to manage my mental health, but I do what works the best for me. My hope is that something I do may work for you, too.
- I try. Every. Single. Day. When things don’t go my way, I remind myself I can try again tomorrow.
- I accept that depression and anxiety are my life-long roommates. They make a mess of the house but they also help me appreciate every day my house is in order.
- I accept that pain and joy are temporary. I know this too shall pass when things are painful and I appreciate the joyful moments when they come around.
- I get out of bed every day even when I don’t want to.
- I take my medication like a good girl.
- I confide in my therapist and take her suggestions to heart.
- I write to purge hurtful words from dark places.
- I write to remind myself it’s ok to laugh and make others laugh.
- I write to make sense of my past so it can’t hurt me anymore.
- I write for my future.
- No matter how I feel, I care about others and am there to offer supportive words and a hug, even when I need them, too.
- I pour my heart and soul into my family and know when I take care of myself, I take better care of my family.
- I’m strong when I need to be.
- I fall apart when I need to, throw a pity party for one, and then pull it together because I have shit to do.
- I believe in love and romance and celebrate my thirty-year love affair with my best friend.
- I ask for and accept help, and I help others.
- I have hope during hopeless times. It’s helped me get through the most painful times of my life and it makes me excited for the future.
- I’m sassy and stubborn and know that I am bigger than depression and anxiety. They can kiss my ass, not kick it.
- I read and re-read self-help books.
- I do the best I can and accept that my best isn’t always great, but it’s good enough.
- I nap when I’m tired, cry when I’m sad, and laugh when I’m so moved.
- When my mind spins out of control, I find something to focus on in the moment.
- I say “Stop!” when my negative self-talk and demons tell me lies.
- I say no to things I don’t want and speak up for things I do want. It took me a long time to give myself permission to do so.
- I remind myself I’m a human being, that being perfect is overrated, and being flawed makes me more interesting.
- I remind myself it’s not all about me.
- I know I’m not alone, ever. All I have to do is reach out.
- I appreciate the little things—the first sip of coffee in the morning, a full moon, a setting sun, snugs with my cat, holding my husband’s hand while we watch TV in bed, running errands with my girls, finding the perfect gift for someone I love, texting with my sister.
- I remind myself I’m safe when anxiety tells me I’m not.
- When anxiety makes up fiction, I ask it for the facts.
- I appreciate I’m in good company—16 million people live with depression every day and another 60 million live with anxiety.
- I choose life.
If you are struggling, please reach out for help. You’re worth it, and I would never lie to you. When things are really dark and you feel you can’t take it another minute, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Happy Birthday, Dad
Once upon a time, I had a perfectly, imperfect father who loved me like a daughter, not just a girl his son brought home one day. He didn’t have to love me—he was under no obligation whatsoever. He didn’t even have to like me, but he did. We were fast friends. We understood each other because we chose better lives for ourselves when we could have easily repeated what we saw as children. We were both sassy, strong, and stubborn. Above all, we both loved his son beyond belief.
I don’t even remember calling him Pete. He was always Dad. He showed me what unconditional love looked like; what it felt like to be the center of one’s world; and the value of love, loyalty, generosity of spirit, and tradition. No one would have blamed him for being a cold-hearted cynic, having lived a life no child should. But he wasn’t. He lived his life with an open heart. He was compassionate and incredibly generous, sometimes anonymously, expecting nothing in return. He was quick and clever and made me laugh.
Dad wasn’t perfect, but he held his broken pieces together as long as he could—long enough to raise children anyone would be proud of; love and spoil granddaughters in the best of ways; celebrate a Super Bowl win with his biggest fan; read every book he could get his hands on; create traditions celebrating family; and change me in ways I didn’t think were possible. His body broke and we lost him way too soon. It was the only time he hurt me and I feel the pain to this day.
I see him in my loving, hilarious husband, my sweet sister, my sassy and generous daughters, and his fiercely independent granddaughters. I see him in the best part of myself.
We lost him almost fifteen years ago, but sometimes it feels like yesterday. Today would have been his 81st birthday, but I celebrate him every day.
Happy Birthday, Dad.
Those Aren’t Pillows!
Every year, my family watches Planes, Trains, and Automobiles the night before Thanksgiving. We spend the rest of the year cramming movie quotes into our normal conversations. We know every scene so well we start laughing before the hijinks even happen. We quote lines a split-second before Steve Martin and John Candy deliver them with perfect, comedic timing. We all have our favorite scenes.
The movie is hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time, just like life, sans musical score. The freeze frame of John Candy at the end while “Every time You Go Away” plays in the background brings me to tears. Every. Single. Time. John Candy left us way too soon. This year, I know the song will rip out my heart because my youngest daughter is unable to join this year’s viewing and the Thanksgiving feast the next day. Thankfully, she took the tradition with her and will be watching three thousand miles away.
I can’t remember exactly how and when this tradition started, but I can’t imagine my life without it. We’ve added loved ones to the viewing party and tearfully said goodbye to others; we’ve watched during years of celebration and good fortune and years that tested our mettle; we’ve watched during different stages of our lives that allowed us to relate to the movie in different ways. It’s so much more than a movie—it’s family, treasured moments, laughter during difficult times, and our steadfast friend.
I don’t know what the next year will bring for my family, but I know without a doubt, we will gather to watch Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and laugh for 92 glorious minutes. “Gobble. Gobble.”
From Snow Skis to Wheelchair
I’m sure when you woke up this morning, you took a deep breath, swung your legs out of bed, and started your day. All on you own, without thinking about it, without worry. We take our breath for granted. We trust that our bodies will do everything we need it to do to keep us alive. That’s not true for everyone. Imagine you are 16 years old, no worries in the world, loving life, hanging out with friends, and being adventurous. Imagine going fast – skiing, riding your motorcycle, driving. Now, imagine your 16 year old body dropping to the ground unable to move or breath on its own. In an instant, Mark King’s life changed forever. An accident left him with C-1 quadriplegia and dependency on a ventilator because his body doesn’t do what it needs to do on its own to keep him alive. At the age of 16, he was given one hour to live in 1980. That was almost 40 years ago.
He is Superman, if Superman needed a ventilator to breath. His super powers are defeating the odds, inspiring others, helping people understand how to talk with people with disabilities, and advocating for those with disabilities. He has helped shape the services and supports available to those living with disabilities, has testified in front of the Oregon State Legislature, has served as a Commissioner with the Oregon Home Care Commission, and now serves on the Oregon Disabilities Commission. He lives his life with compassion, generosity, and humor. He chooses to live. What’s your excuse?
Mark tells his story in his newly published book, From Snow Skis to Wheelchair, available now on Amazon. Unless you are a robot, you will cry (or try not to), laugh out loud, celebrate his victories, be inspired, and never take your breath for granted again. And that 16 year old boy, he was a little troublemaker.
It’s a Little Bit Funny, This Feeling Inside
I was so excited to see the Elton John biopic, Rocketman. Months seemed like years. I wouldn’t say I’m a fanatic. I don’t even know all his songs, but the songs I do know and love move me. When I was a teenager, I confiscated my parents copy of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and sat in my room listening to my favorite songs from the album over and over. I didn’t know about Bernie Taupin then. I just loved the songs and Elton John’s beautiful voice, and when I listened, I didn’t feel so alone.
There is a scene in the movie where Bernie is listening to Elton bring Your Song to life. I sat there and cried. It wasn’t Elton, it was the look on Bernie’s face when his creation became so much more that moved me to tears. His poetry was given life and he knew it would be shared with the world. As I writer, that is my dream. I want my writing to be part of the living. They knew they had created something amazing. It’s eternal. Every generation knows it.
There are days that writing is hard and I can’t find the right words to string together. I have come to appreciate the lyrics of Your Song – “I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss. Well a few of the verses, well they’ve got me quite cross.” There have been more days than I would like to admit that I’ve sat in front of my computer feeling quite cross. When the words I struggle to write fit together just right, I know the “sun’s been quite kind.”
I found myself crying a lot during the movie. It triggered me. Elton felt unloved by his parents and uncertain whether he would be loved at all. The ghost of that feeling lives inside of me and haunts me once in a while. It used to be alive and well in every cell of my being, crushing and breaking me and drilling a space in me that will always be empty. As a kid, I knew there were people who loved me, but feeling loved and being loved are not always the same thing.
And then I found someone who truly loved me and helped me build a bridge over that empty hole. I can peer down into the darkness, but I don’t fall in. There are danger signs all around it telling me to watch my step. Sometimes I dangle my foot over the railing just to tempt fate, but then I stand up and walk over the bridge into my happy life. As an adult, I know my parents did the best they could, but they were lost in their own black hole of brokenness. And I am far from a perfect parent. I have made plenty of mistakes, but I did the best I could do so my girls would never feel unloved.
Back to Rocketman. I loved it. It wasn’t perfect, but life isn’t either. Elton put his broken, brilliant life on the big screen for all to see. If we could all be as brave. Thank you, Elton and Bernie, for keeping me company.
A Little Ditty ’bout Mike and Jenny
Someone asked me this week how my husband and I have stayed together for almost 30 years. There’s no secret or luck, my friends. We invest in our relationship every single day. There’s no resting on our laurels, phoning it in, or taking a day off. We work at it, but it doesn’t feel like work because we enjoy being together. We dig one another. We genuinely like each other and find each other interesting. We are fans of our relationship. His face is my screen saver and he keeps a 29 year old picture of us in his wallet. Don’t get me wrong, our relationship isn’t perfect. We are flawed human beings incapable of perfection. I’m so grateful to be in an amazingly imperfect, loving relationship with my best friend.
Mike and I are opposites in a lot of ways. He’s a calm, steadfast, neat, organized, rational saver. I’m a little tornado, an emotional, impulsive, creative dreamer. He’s a night owl who has trouble falling asleep. I’m an earlyish bird who can fall asleep in a middle of a conversation. He has a loud laugh that comes from deep within. I laugh on the inside. He’s not a huge fan of PDA, but I make him kiss me in the middle of Target anyway. He keeps me grounded and I encourage him to fly. He is a fantastic verbal storyteller and I’m a writer. He’s the driver and I’m the trusty navigator. We are strong and weak at different times so we are always there to catch each other when we stumble. He’s an optimistic ball of anxiety and I’m a deep pit of depression and pessimism. He’s quick to forgive and I hold a grudge. But we love each other for our differences.
We are the same where it counts—our values and priorities, our love of home and family, and our love for other imperfect humans in this world. We are kind and generous to others, as well as to each other. We make decisions together (except when I spent $3,000 dollars on Mary Kay without telling him). We talk it out after I try giving him the silent treatment. We are equals in our relationship and give each other 100%. We are Team Cokeley.
Mike and I laugh a lot (when I’m not irritable and moody)—with each other, at each other, and through the most difficult, dark times. We share inside jokes. I cheese sandwich you, Mike. A lot of our conversations are pieced together with movie quotes.
We understand romance isn’t always about grand gestures. It’s also little things like holding hands in bed while watching T.V.; stealing kisses in the kitchen; Starbuck surprises; leaving a towel out for the morning shower; making sure we never run out of toilet paper; running errands together; and remembering to pay off the credit cards (except when I forget to pay Mike’s, but that has only happened a few hundred times). Romance is about saying I love you every day, making sure there are kisses goodbye, texting during the day just to say I’m thinking about you (and your hot body).
So, you see my friends, it’s not luck, except for our incredible chemistry, but don’t worry, I will spare you the details (unless you want them, you perv).
If You Think I’m Sassy, Let Me Introduce You to My Grandma Shirlee
Every time I hear Tiny Dancer, I think about my Grandma Shirlee. She wasn’t a dancer or even tiny for that matter. She didn’t marry a music man or count headlights on the highway. She did, however, have a pirate’s smile—a wonderful, crooked smile. If you want to know where I got my sass, Shirlee’s to blame. She was a short, strong, sassy woman who spoke her mind. She was a feisty red head with a bit of a mean streak and a wicked sense of humor. She was the leader of the tribe and the glue that kept the family together. She was one of a kind, that Shirl of mine.
My grandma was a lover of books; a Trivial Pursuit cheat; a dining room table pinochle champion; a wig wearing smoker with asthma; a hard worker; horrible housekeeper; and a fantastic cook. She wouldn’t hesitate to stab your hand with a fork when you reached across the dining room table. Trust me. She also had the biggest heart. She opened her home to us when we didn’t have one; she helped raise her sixteen-year-old daughter’s little girl; she cared for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with such love, compassion, and dedication; and she gave people a million chances when they deserved none.
My grandma passed down her love of reading to me. Every week, we’d go to the used book store and fill paper sacks with romance novels she devoured. I loved going with her and losing myself in a maze of books. She always had one on the dash or her car and another stuffed in her purse. “You never know when you’ll have to wait,” she’d say. Maybe I became a writer because she loved books so much. I wish she could have read my words.
Shirlee forced me to play cards with her and watch musicals for hours—Mame, Gypsy, The King and I. I think she believed she was Mamma Rose. I would do anything to be held captive by her again and play pinochle with a mixture of fear and enthusiasm. That lady was serious about her cards.
I was holding Shirlee’s hand when she died. I am so grateful I was able to share that moment with her. No force of nature could have moved me from her bedside. I kissed her cheek and thanked her for being my grandma. And just like that, my Shirlee was gone.
Grandma Shirlee’s sassy, stubborn spirit and strength lives in me, my daughters, Shirlee’s daughters, and my sister. We are strong, independent women just like Shirlee. If you push us, we dig in deep. We pick ourselves up when we get knocked down – every single time. We just keep moving forward because we decide which direction to go. It’s the legacy of a red head with a pirate’s smile.